Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Gray Lady of Long Branch

Title:  The Gray Lady of Long Branch
Author:  Maura Satchell
Publication Information:  Four Pillars Media Group. 2015. 284 pages.
ISBN:  0985709383 / 978-0985709389

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "I was built in the 1910s in the fashionable west end of Long Branch."

Favorite Quote:  "I guess that's how life is. Sometimes it's joyful, sometimes sad, and sometimes downright painful. The main thing is to keep the memories alive."

The Gray Lady of Long Branch is a house set on the New Jersey shore in the town of Long Branch. Inside its walls, life happens - life, death, and everything in between. The house here tells its story through the stories of its inhabitants from World War II to almost the present time.

The narrative reads as if seen from the perspective of the house. As such, the narrator becomes a character; it seems a warm, encompassing presence that seems to love and protect those who are within the walls of the home.

Named for a "branch" of the Shrewsbury River, Long Branch is a beach town, with many permanent residents but also many beach goers who come and stay for a short time. This is a key to this book for the Gray Lady is a vacation home not a permanent residence. So, the story becomes scenes through time as visitors come and go.  The owners of the house are John and Mary and their two children Emily and Vincent.

The book is sweet. The simple approach to the story telling does not make these moments more or less than what they are. It simply describes them. The different scenes cycle back to some of the same characters such that you see them at different points in their lives. The baby born in the house experiences her first love and later becomes a bride in the house. The flower children who stop at the house for a brief moment return with spouses and children. The rebellious child finds his anchor. The happily married couple grow together through the seasons of their lives. The book is about the small and the big moments of everyday life.

The different scenes do also make reference to the history of the times as it impacts the residents of the house - World War II, Woodstock, the death of Princess Diana, Y2K, 9/11, and other historical events. These reference, while not critical to the book, do help provide a frame of reference for time and place. Reflective of the time and place of the setting, the book also exhibits the prejudices - toward different races and towards women, for example - and the language of the times. These are off-putting to us today but were unfortunately the culture of that time.

Being set in a beach town, the ocean is a block away from the house, but it actually plays a small role in the story. The book really could be set anywhere. It has references to going and coming back from the beach and to a storm or two. Other than that, the house is the key aspect of the setting not its surroundings. Given the narrator, it's not surprising that the book focuses completely on what happens inside the walls of this house rather than the beautiful environment outside.

I enjoy the story for its simplicity and for its unvarnished sense of real life. Right up until the last few paragraphs of the book. The final paragraphs introduce a twist that I did not expect and one I find unnecessary. It takes the entire story in a completely different direction, and I find myself having to reset how I read the rest of the book. Without a spoiler, I will say I get the message of the final few paragraphs, but still feel them unnecessary to the book. With the message, the book ends with a judgement on decisions made. Without the message, the book is a simple, touching story of family and home.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.


  1. Nada, I really appreciate your review here. Perceptive and inciteful! You nailed what I was going for!

    1. Maura, Thank you for stopping by and thank you again for trusting your work to me. I really enjoyed the warmth of the family story and look forward to reading more of your work.

  2. Hi Nada, I really enjoyed reading your review of this book. Like you, I really enjoyed reading it. "Empty Sky" by Maura Satchell was also great, and I will be keeping a look out for her books in future. A highly recommended author.

    1. Thank you for your kind comment and for your recommendation. I will also be keeping a lookout for Maura Satchell's other work.

  3. Thanks for writing such an honest review Nada! I have added this book to my TBR list.